Monthly updates from Laura Farris
MP for Newbury
Welcome from Laura
I am so grateful to those of you who have been in touch with me since my election in December. The first few weeks as an MP are like nothing I have experienced before, however I have now established my office in Newbury and in Parliament and have a brilliant team of local staff supporting me. I thought it would be helpful to keep in touch with my constituents via a monthly newsletter so that you can hear what I have been up to and also get in touch if you have any comments or ideas on my work. I am always happy to hear from you and you can reach me either at firstname.lastname@example.org or at one of my surgeries. These have been held in Newbury so far but I will soon be holding them in other parts of the constituency because I want to be as accessible as possible to all of you.
As you will be well aware, the first weeks of 2020 were consumed with passing the European Withdrawal Agreement Bill. I am glad that we were able to fulfil the mandate of the 2016 referendum and put behind us the tensions and rancor of the last 18 months. I am of course aware of the challenges that lie ahead, but nonetheless, like many other Parliamentarians, approach them in an open and optimistic spirit now that the question of our departure is finally settled.
This month, the Government has been focused on getting to work on your priorities and our manifesto commitments. We have had the first reading of the Environment Bill – ground breaking legislation that sets new laws around air quality, water quality, biodiversity and recycling, and also sets up a powerful new Green Watchdog which will have real teeth in holding the Government of the day to account on its environmental objectives. I have also been elected Vice Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Environment, which will lead work from the backbenches in this critical policy area over the next Parliamentary term.
Last Monday I was very proud to make my maiden speech in the House: 100 years to the day after Nancy Astor, the first woman to sit in Parliament, made hers. It was a great pleasure to pay tribute to Richard Benyon and also talk about us as a constituency - our story and our strengths. I attach a link below should you like to see what I said:
I also joined the Home Affairs Select Committee with overall responsibility for reviewing the work of the Home Office. This is one of the principal Select Committees (along with the Treasury and Foreign Affairs) and will have a particularly interesting remit, overseeing our new immigration laws, new counterterrorism laws and the revised funding formula for the police.
Finally, in the course of the last month I have asked a number of questions in Parliament reflecting local issues that have been raised either in correspondence or in surgery including:
· Provision for war widows;
· Pension arrangements for GPs;
· Promoting shared parental leave in the workplace.
In the constituency:
There is a lot to celebrate locally, not least national recognition for two amazing business: The Bell Inn in Aldworth, which won the Campaign for Real Ale's 'Best Pub of the Year 2020' and Greggs in Northbrook Street which won 'Best Store of the Year'. I send my warmest congratulations to both.
I want to get around every school in the constituency and will soon complete my visits to the secondaries before starting on the primaries. We have OFSTED ratings to be proud of in West Berkshire, with 95% of schools rated “Good” or “Outstanding”. However, I know that each school faces its own challenges and I want to understand these so that I can make sure that our schools receive robust representation in Parliament.
I have also visited some of our thriving local businesses who are offering young people the opportunity to embark on rewarding careers through apprenticeships. One of these, Xtrac-a leading supplier of parts of high-performance motor vehicles - has a nationally recognised technical apprenticeship scheme and has done so much to support young people's interest and participation in engineering. I also visited Newbury College who provide the corresponding apprentice training to complement their work.
Farming is at the heart of our rural communities and I have visited several at this critical moment for British farming. I want to build up a picture as to how I can support these farmers as they transition out of the Common Agricultural Policy to DEFRA supported-subsidies and diversification. I also heard from them about the scale and impact of rural crime – particularly hare and deer coursing. Early in February, I met with the Thames Valley Police’s Chief Constable, where we discussed approaches to tackling this and making best use of the 50 additional police who will join the West Berkshire force over the next few years.
Tackling the problems of rough sleeping and insecure accommodation is also a priority for me. This month I visited Two Saints and Loose Ends, both of whom are doing incredible work in the community at finding long-term solutions for West Berkshire’s homeless. This work is complex and challenging and I know that it requires a huge concerted effort to address this issue.
Finally, we have been hit hard by Storms Dennis, Ciara and (at the time of writing) have Storm Jorge around the corner. It is a testament to the work of Richard Benyon that towns and villages (including Thatcham and Winterbourne) have been protected from flooding with the installation of permanent flood defences. However, we have work to complete in Great Shefford and I have been down to see the current situation in Lambourn which is completely unacceptable. I will be working with Thames Water and local residents after the water recedes to try and achieve a long-term solution to this problem.